Monday, November 18, 2013

FTT Off-Topic: The Shooter Eldest Has A Gymnastics Meet Experience

Four events, five ribbons
Not really sports, but closer than most FTT O-T. Read or not.

We've been taking the eldest to gymnastics classes for years, but due to a combination of circumstances (battles with, and separation from, weak and manipulative coaching that almost led her to quit the sport, a relative lack of interest right away in competing, and a fairly late start), she's never had the team / meet experience of formal competition. With the move to the latest gym, she qualified for the team, and that means six meets with the potential of qualifying for State. This morning was her first.

Being the parent of any 13-year-old girl is, I am sure, the sure-fire cure for a life without drama. I don't go for the cheap misogyny of wishing for boys or saying how much harder they are, because, well, I have no idea. I just have the two that I have. And the thing about gymnastics is that the people who teach it are ex-performers, and ex-gymnasts are, well, dramatic people. So you get all kinds of arcane rules and petty tyrannies, and that's before the actual judging. Plus, well, your kid's drama is amplified by all of the other kid's dramas, and the coaches, and the simple weirdness that is a sport without a very clear scorecard. Add to it the usual prisoner's dilemma / criminal enterprise expense of any organized child's sport, and you get a very conflicted relationship with it from the parent's perspective. I love that my kid is a gymnast, and I love that she's in shape and confident. I don't love the time and expense.

I'm also under no delusion that my kid is going to make this investment one that will have a tangible payoff. The Eldest is strong, determined and a performer, but she's not perfect, and if she decides that she doesn't want to do this any more, well, it's her life, her choice. I'm not going to be one of Those Parents that gives her a guilt trip about finding new obsessions.

So today was going to be, well, fascinating and scary and stressful. If she performed badly, I was going to have to coach her down; if she had issues with the judging or the other contestants or suffered an injury or some other mishap, we're on the hook for full 13-year-old drama. Combine it with an early morning wake up (you had to be at the site by 8am, and it was an hour away, and we are so *not* morning people)... and we suddenly have to work out hair spray and bobbie pins and not get the deluxe performance leotard and equipment messed up and 6+ hours out of the house made me think that the family dog needed to be lodged overnight with my mother, rather than make him stay in house alone all day (he's never really been left alone for that long before)...

And, well, the past three months at the day job have been extraordinarily busy. We keep setting production records and then breaking them, so I've been operating under very little sleep, which is really not the recipe for dealing with Kid's First Meet. But as happens more often than not, it all worked out, because our problems are pretty good ones, really. The dog was ported, a niece with performance experience was called for the hair 411 (a product called Got To Be Glued, which is, I read on the label, wind tunnel tested), we got there on time and The Kid went to work.

First was uneven bars. This is perhaps the hardest apparatus for early performance levels girls, because it taxes upper body strength while adding in the fear factors of speed and altitude. Scores are generally low here, and while my kid is crazy wiry strong, she's also in an odd place in her development, in that she can probably do trickier things than are allowed for her level. So the routine is not where it will be later, and with the competition bars being different from the home gym, it was her weakest event. So the score was a 5.1, better than most, no real failure, but she was doing it better in practice. I was worried she'd get bent about the score, but she seemed pleased with it, at least at first. She's got her moments, especially in public.

The next event was the high balance beam. Again, not a perfect performance -- there was one slip that she more or less fixed so quickly that it looked more like irritation -- and a fairly complicated dismount that she completed. That got her a 6.5, and more or less put to rest the idea that she wasn't going to be pretty good at this whole meet thing.

In a gymnastics meet, all apparatus is being used all the time, but the teams aren't equal size, and the time it takes to get through something -- floor and beam especially -- is also not equal. So there's a fair amount of standing around, and it takes about an hour to get through each event, in which you'll see your kid perform for, at most, two minutes. You get a lot of announcements about what's in the snack area, 50-50 idiot lottery hype, and paid "shout outs" from gymnasts and parents that just make my mind go to all kinds of inappropriate places. Seats are metal folding chairs, which is to say, you're going to be in a lot of pain on many levels. But you suck it up, because, well, the last thing you want to do as a parent is distract your kid when she's trying to do something like this. It's her day, not yours. And you are probably a lot more nervous about it than she is.

Next up was floor, and it is, I'm sure, just about every girl's secret favorite exercise, whether they admit it or not. The amount of personality that's shown in a routine, the body language of whether the gymnast feels like they've done the routine correctly, and the simple addition of music to something that's mostly soft thudding noises... well, it is what it is. The Eldest uses a simple violin piece (there's no lyrics permitted) that is, like her, a little formal and classy, and yet, not without style or confidence. Like the earlier events, she wasn't perfect, but she presented well and probably hit about 90 to 95% of what she's capable of, and for the third straight event, upped her score, this time to a 6.75. And an hour later, after two perfunctory runs through the vault (fastest and highest scoring event, with two attempts), she had logged a 7.5 despite not feeling very happy with what she did, and found herself getting fourth through sixth place ribbons for all four pieces. Of fifteen girls in her age and level, she finished fourth in the all around, and was pleased, but not completely satisfied. Third place and up gets medals, you see. And now she's got a baseline, and a history, and something to measure against. Next meet is next week.

There was one moment, during her floor exercise, when I honestly felt myself tearing up a bit, just by watching her. My wife said to me, while she was on the beam, "When did our kid get hips?" And, well, there is something to that, since gymnast posture and costuming shows your kid in a way you don't normally see her. But the big takeaway is that there is something about watching your kid do something hard, something you could never do, that just puts you to the floor and below. She's getting older, she's changing in front of your eyes, and she's doing stuff that you didn't really know she could do. Especially not in front of a couple of hundred strangers.

I am, of course, immensely proud of her, fascinated by what she's going to do next, and showing this post to her for error checking and to record the feeling of how this all was, the first time she ever did it. It's my version of videotape, and something I hope lasts longer. Because, and this is the hard thing to tell a child and have them believe it while not quite going overboard from it... she amazes me. And probably always will.

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